Game of Thrones lands the ending after rushed final two seasons
We’re now one week into life AT (After Thrones).
It’s an odd reality to occupy and we’re all going to get through it (well, most of us), but with enough time gone by to fully form my thoughts and feelings on the matter, which I know you’re all dying for, here goes my thoughts on Game of Thrones — the show, the final season, and that final episode.
Major spoilers ahead, obviously, so do what you need to do to avoid those.
Let’s start with the hottest of hot button issues — that being the Khaleesi’s supposed heel turn in episode 805.
Daenerys Targaryen has been viewed as a hero in this show for its entire run. She’s the Breaker of Chains, the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, and the complete antithesis of her father, Aerys Targaryen, otherwise known as The Mad King.
But give the entire series another look over and you’ll see the ingredients for what happened to King’s Landing in season eight to be in plain sight all along.
Many of Dany’s victims throughout the show deserved their fates, which is why we excused her for executing those fates, but her ability to watch her own brother die at the hands of Khal Drogo with all the emotion of someone sitting in on an insurance seminar was chilling.
That same expression can be observed in episode 210, when she kills Xaro Xhoan Daxos and her friend, Doreah, after their betrayal of her in Qarth, and in season three, as she kills Kraznys and liberates Astapor in episode 304 with the classic hand-the-dragon-over-and-then-have-the-dragon-kill-its-new-owner-once-his-army-of-unsullied-is-mine trick.
Oldest trick in the Seven,er, Six Kingdoms.
After rising to power in Mereen later in season three, she crucifies the masters. When the Sons of the Harpy begin causing problems in Mereen, the only thing standing in the way of her committing mass murder is sage advice from Ser Baristan Selmy.
When the masters of Yunkai revolt on their previously agreed-upon deal to eliminate slavery in seven years and attempt to overthrow Dany, it’s Tyrion who advises her against her original plan of killing the masters and “returning their cities to the dirt.”
Tyrion’s suggestion of an alternate approach no doubt saved countless lives, and also stood as one of his final moments of sage wisdom for the next few years. Dude ended this show on a rough streak.
I’ve read and heard a lot of people claiming that they didn’t agree with Dany’s turn, but it wasn’t much of a turn.
Yes, her killing innocent civilians after her adversaries had rung the bells and surrendered was a Mad Queen-kind of move and goes against her days of being praised as “Mhysa” in Mereen.
But go back to season one, when Khal Drogo makes his promise to her to become the first Khal to bring his khalasar across the Narrow Sea aboard “wooden horses” and deliver to his Khaleesi the Seven Kingdoms. He speaks of killing the men, raping the women and enslaving the children of King’s Landing to deliver Dany the chair her father once sat upon.
In all that talk of raping women and enslaving children, did you see Dany flinch or correct him?
Add all that to the visions Dany encountered in the House of the Undying in season two…
…and what you have is a fully-formed series of foreshadowing events that led to Dany’s ultimate fall.
There’s something I think we should remember here and that is that foreshadowing is not character development, and that’s where the show went wrong with Dany in season eight and why people aren’t seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to her actions and downfall.
Dany’s actions are in line with her character’s instincts, familial history, and her overall character arc, but the abbreviated final season left us no time to see those developments fester and grow.
Robb Stark’s negotiations with Walder Frey for access to a bridge — negotiations which eventually led to the Red Wedding — literally took up more time than Dany’s microwaved descent.
We needed to see her isolation play out, and we needed to see her become more estranged from Jon Snow, Tyrion, and whatever was left of her counsel.
Everything that happened to her in season eight — the deaths of Ser Jorah, Rhaegal, Missandei of Naath, and the betrayal of both Cersei and Varys — were the right triggers to push her beyond the edge, but they happened so fast and we just didn’t get the time to see how those things played out in her head.
HBO had given showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a blank check and told them to make the show as long as needed, both in terms of episode count and episode length.
While they used that bottomless capital to give us a spectacle unlike anything ever seen on television before, their haste cost us crucial character development at Dany’s expense.
Ultimately though, I believe the series finale allowed us a chance to see that Dany hadn’t suddenly descended into madness.
Her final speech to her army echoed past speeches made to the same group of people. Her determination to “break the wheel” remained intact, and her belief that she knew what was good was stronger than ever.
Jon’s painful attempts to curtail Dany’s murdering of the last of the Lannister soldiers, along with Tyrion, was a brilliant double move in the episode, showing us Jon’s attempt not just to save the people he mentioned, but Dany herself.
He didn’t want to kill her, and you could tell that the decision wasn’t made until his final question was answered — “what about all the other people who think they know what’s good?”
“They don’t get to choose,” Dany says with a stealy, confident expression, sealing her fate and giving her the record for shortest reign in the history of Westeros (I checked the Guiness Book of Westerosi Records to be sure).
I don’t believe that Dany died a villain. I think she died a tragic victim of her own ambition, well-intended as it was in her own head and heart. She had lost so much in such a small window of time (two dragons, Jorah, Missandei, the affections of Jon Snow) and her Hand was riding a pretty rough streak of clever plans gone bad.
Cersei lied to her face and betrayed her, then cut her best friend’s head off after uttering her final words — “Dracarys!”
As Jon asked Tyrion in an attempt to stay on Dany’s side, can you blame her after all that has happened to her?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Dany’s desire to keep the North in the fold and to liberate other areas of the world was understandable given her worldview and understanding of how the monarchy works. But in wanting to subvert Jon’s identity from the world, it showed Dany to be tragically attracted to power.
If the show championed any message, it was that those who desire power are seldom the ones who should have it.
That all notwithstanding, actress Emilia Clarke stands by Dany, and she should! Daenerys Targaryen is an iconic female character and, like everyone else in this story, is not a black and white, good or bad kind of character. She’s shades of both.
Aren’t we all?
THE PACING OF SEASON 8 (and 7!)
We’ve touched on this already a bit, but I’ll never understand why Benioff and Weiss chose the route of shorter seasons. I hated it.
They likely thought to themselves after season six, “we don’t need to show these characters traveling anymore — they know how long it takes to go from King’s Landing to Winterfell, or from The Wall to Dragonstone. We can just get them there and the audience can fill in the gaps with their imaginations.”
That line of thinking leads to expedited narratives and whiplash action, which in their minds must have seemed like a welcome addition to the cannon after six years and 60 episodes of characters walking, sailing, or riding to these far-off destinations and wondering, “wait, where exactly is Braavos again?”
Which, yeah, in some spots, it was nice to skip past some of those travels. But it didn’t just eliminate road trips, it eliminated those important conversations in fancy rooms that set the show apart.
We spent six years watching Cersei, Tywin, Tyrion, Littlefinger, Varys, Stannis, Melisandre, Dany, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and so many others use dialogue as a prime mover in character development and narrative propulsion.
Think back to season one and the conversation between Cersei and Robert Baratheon about the prospect of trying to hold off Viserys, Dany and the Dothraki if they ever invaded.
It’s an incredible scene. Easily one of the best in the whole series, which says a lot. Cersei’s defiance towards the long-shot prospect of invading Targaryens and Dothraki screamers is as sturdy and ill-fated as the day she stared them down outside the walls of King’s Landing years later, daring them to attack as she ordered the Mountain to cut down Missandei in front of Dany and Grey Worm.
Season seven has a few rich scenes of that caliber (almost all of them including Olenna Tyrell), but season eight is almost bereft of them. They were there for the taking, but we had no time.
In particular, the scene with Varys attempting to overthrow Dany with ravens to the lords of Westeros containing the truth of Jon’s parentage should have been two episodes alone in terms of dialogue and narrative progression, but it was barely 10 minutes.
Still, that all said, allow me to say…
SEASON EIGHT WAS FUN AND ENTERTAINING AS SHIT
What we lost in narrative progression and character development, we got back in the form of incredible battle sequences, beautifully destructive POV filming, and breathtaking cinematography and CGI.
We also got some of the best musical scores I’ve ever heard. The Night King score in episode 803 is spine-tingling.
The whole Battle of Winterfell was edge-of-your-seat television that left my wife and I speechless for 20 minutes after the episode.
I’m pretty sure we both experienced temporary paralysis when Arya jumped out to kill the Night King. Her drop-and-stab move was gangster as shit.
I loved the premiere and all the reunions and revelations, not to mention the many callbacks to season one, and I loved Jon’s reveal to Dany of his true identity.
I didn’t really start to feel the pinch of all of this until episode 804, when it seemed like the show’s overall narrative was shot out of a rocket.
THE NIGHT KING AND THE LONG NIGHT (APPROX. 80 MINUTES LONG)
We literally spent a decade hyping The Long Night and it was over in a flash and then it was off to King’s Landing to take care of Cersei.
I’ve seen Northern Alaskan summer nights that lasted longer than The Long Night.
For as entertaining as that episode was, and I cannot overstate that enough, I couldn’t help but feel let down by how… short the Long Night was.
Shouldn’t he have been able to push them all further South? Far be it for me to question the toughness of Northerners, but this isn’t the Wildling army. It’s the un-fucking-dead. And they have a dragon!
They can also make their own snowstorms, which is pretty nifty for blinding dragons or getting out of those dinner plans you made last week with your undead in-laws. Night King’s got moves.
I can forgive the Long Night That Wasn’t, but the lack of understanding about the white walkers and their king, what they wanted, and what they would do if they did kill everyone, is still baffling to me. I can’t help but think that the remaining books will give us a better understanding of those narrative plot holes.
BRAN THE BROKEN, KING OF THE SIX KINGDOMS AND PROTECTOR OF THE REALM
Say what you will about Bran’s rise, it makes more sense than it doesn’t.
Think about it — what did Varys want for the realm? A just ruler who doesn’t lust for power but could manage it. While his efforts were ultimately thwarted (not to mention, a bit misguided), his vision came true.
Bran isn’t even, really, a man anymore. As the Three-Eyed Raven, he doesn’t yearn for love or the need to procreate. His injuries also probably cement that. The realm won’t have to wonder if he’ll go mad or grow cruel with age and time.
I’ve seen some bring up how, when he returned to Winterfell, he told Sansa that he could never be lord of anything after she reminded him of his status as Ned Stark’s last-living son.
It’s a valid point. Why can he be king but not Lord of Winterfell?
I think, given his growth as the Three-Eyed Raven and his improving ability to “see better”, he likely believed that Tyrion’s nomination of him was in the best interests of the realm given Tyrion’s logic behind the pick.
Bran ruling, with no chance of creating an heir, allowed for Tyrion and our merry band of survivors to break the wheel, just as Dany wanted (though I’m sure her version involved her being alive), and to create a somewhat democratic process for selecting a new ruler once Bran dies.
Which leads me to this question — how long will Bran live? The previous Three-Dicked Horse was, apparently, alive for thousands of years.
(How fucking incredible would it have been if it was Three-Dicked Horse instead of Three-Eyed Raven? I was just seeing how it fit. That’s what she said.)
But that could have meant that the magic itself was thousands of years old, whereas the person harnessing the magic was still of a normal lifespan. Possibilities…
I think we can all agree that Winterfell becoming its own kingdom, and Sansa leading that kingdom as Queen of the North, was perfect and in no need of dissection because holy shit, who deserved that spot more than Sansa?
She endured the Lannisters, the Boltons, and Littlefinger. She called upon the Knights of the Veil when Jon was soundly defeated in the Battle of the Bastards. She was left in charge while Jon recruited Dany, and she was left in charge when Jon and Co. marched South to King’s Landing.
Sansa is as good a player of The Game than anyone else alive. She learned from the likes of Cersei and Baelish, as well as Tyrion and Brienne. There is no better choice for queen — long may she reign!
We’ve covered Bran and my feeling on him.
As for Arya, her choice to journey past the edges of what’s known seems like a total Arya thing to do. She was never going to settle down with Gendry and make Baratheon babies out in Storm’s End, wherever the Seven Hells that is.
I do wonder why she doesn’t use her human GPS system of a brother to let her know what’s out there, but I suppose that would be akin to saying, “I’m not gonna go to France… I saw it on TV!”
As for everyone’s favorite Stark/Targaryen mix, Jon’s fate is ultimately right, but I felt it was clumsy getting there.
- Why does a seriously depleted Unsullied Army and Dothraki get a say in what happens to Jon Snow? There are, literally, six kingdoms and one independent North capable of killing them if they want. That’s like a horse yielding to a mosquito.
- Why is there still a Night’s Watch? The Wall is literally useless now. I felt like “banishment to the uncharted North” would have been a better way out.
- I like how Grey Worm has all this sway, even commanding the lords of Westeros to pick a monarch, and then he gets no say, yet he gets say on Tyrion and Jon.
- How does Tyrion — a prisoner — get to make the nomination for king?
- How does Robyn Aryn get his milk now? Giant’s milk?
All that said, Jon never desired power, and it seems as though the burden of knowing who he really is was more of a burden than not knowing (white people problems!).
His ending up in the North (the REAL North) with Tormund and Ghost, leading the wildlings back to their homelands felt good, even if it ultimately was unsatisfying for a guy whose story arc was a true roller coaster.
With the wheel broken, Jon’s whole Heir to the Throne claim is as valid as a coupon for 30% off dildos at K-Mart.
Yet it still feels like Jon’s arc came to a thud rather than a triumphant close. Perhaps that was the point though.
Not every good guy gets the happy ending. Especially after Dany burned all the brothels. #cockblockbeyondthegrave #feminism
I’ve pretty much touched on the finale in some form throughout all of this, but to sum it up — I enjoyed it. I really felt like they landed the ending.
It’s hard to enjoy that when what led up to it feels so rushed, but it was still an overall satisfying end to an incredible story.
Drogon melting the throne and taking Dany away East had all kinds of symbolism behind it. East being Essos (East of Westeros), where the Targaryen’s originally come from and where Drogon and his brothers were born, is likely where Drogon took his mother to lay her to rest.
Many wondered why Drogon didn’t kill Jon, and the popular theory is that because he is a Targaryen, and presumably the last, Drogon wouldn’t kill him. But Jon is definitely not Drogon’s favorite hooman.
I loved the scene where Tyrion finds Cersei and Jamie; his guilt overwhelming him as he uncovers their bodies beneath the rubble. Nearly broke me.
It also brought to a close Cersei’s lifelong prophecy (three kids, gold their crowns, gold their shrouds, queen for a time, and struck down by a younger queen). In the books, it also says that she dies by the hands of the valonqar, which in old valyria, means “younger sibling.” That didn’t entirely turn out true, though she did die in the arms of her younger sibling (younger by minutes), Jamie. So kinda true.
I love the new pseudo-democracy in place, and I love the breaking of the wheel.
I do feel like Grey Worm is gonna stick out like a sore thumb in Naath though. That’s like Stannis Baratheon at a rave.
AS A WHOLE, GAME OF THRONES WILL GO DOWN AS THE GREATEST TV SHOW EVER MADE… FOR NOW
When was the last time you went to work and knew that almost everyone there watched what you watched last night?
That used to be common in the days before computers, cell phones, and our Silicone obsessions.
But in the time since DVRs and YouTube and all that jazz came around, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “it’s been a long fucking time, if ever.”
This show was, and is, a phenomenon unique in our world today. Not just because of its popularity, but because of its impossibly dense source material and the world that author George R.R. Martin created for us to explore.
As of this writing, five prequels are currently in various stages of development.
One of them, rumored to be operating under the working title of The Long Night, may answer some of our burning white walker questions from the flagship show.
Regardless, this show was an absolute cultural phenomenon and the actors who made this show what it is will forever have their names attached to TV immortality.
Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Nickolaj Caster-Waldau, Conleth Hill, Gwendoline Christie, and so, so many others turned in such an incredible body of work that I can’t really ever see being matched or exceeded.
What this massive ensemble has achieved is both groundbreaking and breathtaking.
But make no mistake, some show is going to come along and try to top it. Whether they do or don’t, we’re all better for the effort.
Thank you, Game of Thrones.
Thank you to the cast, the creators, the writers, the crews, and everyone involved. Your work is a mighty thing and it won’t soon be topped.